Over the past several months, the Iranian opposition has hosted several online conferences, with participation from political dignitaries in the US, Britain, the European Union, and elsewhere. Many of these have served as prominent venues for criticizing current Western policies toward Iran’s theocratic dictatorship. And some of those have focused even more narrowly on Western responses to an apparently escalating threat of Iranian terrorism.
This was the case with one conference that was held on Thursday, streaming to viewers on both sides of the Atlantic. Speeches from current and former Western lawmakers. This keynote speaker of this event was Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). In addition to Mrs. Rajavi, other officials of the NCRI attended this conference.
Mohammad Mohaddessin, the chairman of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee, explained that the Iranian regime had plotted attacks on Mrs. Rajavi at least two venues in 2018 because this was “its main plan to neutralize the uprisings” that had begun at the end of the previous year.
In December 2017, a protest began in the city of Mashhad which was focused on the Iranian regime’s economic mismanagement but inspired protests with a much broader political message in dozens of other cities and towns. The resulting nationwide uprising was arguably the most significant protest movement to emerge in Iran since the first confrontations between the regime and the organized democratic opposition in the early 1980s.
The January 2018 uprising featured slogans that called for the ouster of all leading regime officials and expressed distaste for both the “hardline” and the “reformist” factions of the regime. It also included participation from a diverse array of Iranian communities and demographics, including residents of poor rural towns who, the regime had been presenting as its supporters. That assumption was proven wrong by the uprising, and it dramatically moved the needle on a gauge of the Iranian people’s prospects for overturning their existing government.
Those prospects have grown ever since, even as the regime’s authorities have vigorously cracked down on the dissent that was brought to the forefront of society in January 2018. The regime’s initial crackdown killed dozens of peaceful protesters and led to thousands of arrests. Yet the uprising itself inspired a wide range of localized demonstrations lasting throughout that year.
It was apparent in response to those persistent demonstrations that the Iranian regime set out to strike a death blow against the NCRI and its main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK). The first attempt came around the time of the Iranian New Year celebration, Nowruz, in March 2018. But before anything could happen, authorities in Albania arrested Iranian operatives who were planning to attack the MEK’s local compound, a residence for around 3,000 members.
The next attempt was even bolder than the plot in Albania. In June 2018, two Iranian operatives attempted to travel from Belgium to France while carrying a detonator and 500 grams of highly explosive material. Their intended target was the NCRI’s annual rally in support of regime change and democratic governance, held in the Paris suburb of Villepinte. But this plot, too, was disrupted by European authorities, leading to the arrest of the two would-be bombers, another accomplice, and one of the regime’s terrorist-diplomats who was determined to be the mastermind.
That terrorist-diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, goes on trial on November 27 in Belgium, where he will be the first high-ranking Iranian diplomat to face accountability for the regime’s longstanding terrorist activities. This looming court date was in focus of Thursday’s conference, and for other such events in prior months. This is as it should be, since the Assadi trial represents a unique opportunity to adjust Western policies toward the Iranian regime while the rationale for that adjustment is in clear view for the international community.
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) October 19, 2020
Renowned human rights lawyer William Bourdon endorsed this view and added that in addition to Assadi and the three agents he’d attempted to dispatch to France, “the Iranian regime itself” will effectively be sitting in the courtroom on November 27. However, neither he nor any other participant in Thursday’s conference expressed absolute confidence in the idea of Belgium or its allies coming to the right conclusion.
William Bourdon, renowned lawyer of human rights and international criminal law
This is an unprecedented trial for two reasons. The bomb plot could have been devastating. Also, we know that the direct implication of the Iranian state in this disgusting crime is now established. We will make sure that the decision of the judge reflects the seriousness of the crime.
For everyone in Europe and elsewhere, it will be clear that next to the four indicted will be sitting the Iranian regime itself. We are sure that it is indispensable that this diplomat represented a state.
Rik Vanreusel, criminal law lawyer
On November 27, the case will be heard by the court. The investigation has taken two years. We have introduced our first written memorandum and received the argument of the defense. It is a bit surprising that the secret agent is trying to invoke the Geneva Conventions. You cannot pretend to be a diplomat when you are caught trying to bomb a civilian population.
The fifth party will be the Iranian regime, and it might in fact be the first party in this trial.
We expect the verdict to be announced at the end of November, beginning of December. This is a case that symbolizes the protection of European values against dictators. Iranian opposition members are citizens. We will not allow secret agents to commit terrorism under the guise of diplomats.
Christophe Marchand, lawyer of international criminal law
This is one of the most important terrorism cases in the 21st century. This is an attack on democracy, on human rights. The fact that the victims attacked in this case, the NCRI, have been the target of systematic attacks by the regime, and have failed, the Iranian regime has had no other response but to use terrorism to harm the opposition.
One of the defendants claims to have diplomatic immunity. But if he does so, then he also accepts responsibility by the regime for this horrible act. We have a solid judicial system, and we will not accept this authoritarian regime to attack and harm innocent people in this horrible way. At the end of the day, immunity is not impunity, and the people who were responsible for this act will be punished.
John Sano, Adjunct Professor, The Institute of World Politics; Former Deputy Director, National Clandestine Service, CIA
Assadi spent a lot of time in Iraq targeting the MEK and U.S. forces. He personally delivered explosives to two other operatives in the Paris case. There should be more international outrage toward this crime. Assadi had the audacity to threaten authorities. It is indicative how brutal the MOIS can be.
The MOIS operates worldwide and uses different methods, through official diplomatic channels and other covers. The MOIS sees their only goal as protecting the regime. In terms of how the MOIS operates, it is a terrorist organization. They are only beholden to the supreme leader. The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force are required to report to the MOIS.
The MOIS is also engaged in disinformation. They are attempting to manipulate the opposition or try to obtain information. During my career in intelligence, I have encountered MOIS operatives. The breadth of their coverage and their authority are unmatched. They are the ones who spread false rumors about the Iranian regime and the opposition. They manipulate the media to plant false stories in the press about the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Even in the Assadi case, the MOIS attempted to lay the blame on the MEK.
The MOIS is above the law and only reports to the supreme leader. The supreme leader often goes directly to the MOIS. Given the fear the regime has about the MEK, it gives the regime great concern. They are concerned about their survival given the uprisings in Iran in the past few years. The regime is extremely frightened and they see the MEK and the largest entity that represents a free and democratic Iran.
It is important that the MOIS and the mullahs in Iran be held accountable for their atrocities.
Former Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi
The beginning of the trial is an important chance to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its crimes. We don’t need further proof that this regime is the number one state-sponsor of terrorism. Assadi is not an exception. He is the normality.
Terrorism is in all regime embassies. It is unprecedented for a sovereign state, a UN member, to use its diplomatic apparatus to develop terrorist activities. The case reveals volumes about the nature of the Iranian theocracy. We cannot wait any longer to implement a strategy of maximum pressure against this regime of assassins. The regime must understand that it will pay a heavy price.
Iranian embassies and governmental institutions and offices involved in these operations must be promptly closed. The European Union still does not see Iran as a fundamental threat against its citizens. Some regime opponents assassinated by the regime were European citizens. The EU did not react to the threat posed by Assadi against its authorities. The EU must be much louder and clear against these intimidations by terrorists who belong to the criminal regime of Iran.
Robert Torricelli, former U.S. senator
While a trial is proceeding on a case in which diplomats were engaged in an alleged terrorism case, some of the governments involved in the case are saying Iran should be allowed to sell and purchase arms. We all recognize that while all defendants are equal, all crimes are not. There is the crime against the individual, and then there are crimes against the society itself. That is this case here. It could have taken some of our lives. But the choice of Paris was not by chance. This was an attack not simply on us as individuals, but on European democracy, western values.
I am impressed that the case has gone this far. But in fact, it is yet to be determined whether we fully meet the challenge. If you sit in Tehran today, while they did not take our lives, on balance, so far, the attack was a success. There was an element of intimidation. No one in the regime has been indicted. No consuls have been closed. No diplomats have been sent home. Let’s contrast this with what Albania did in response to a terrorist attempt on its soil. The relations between the regime and Albania are clearly different now.
I hope that the courage and skills of our lawyers are matched by those of the governments that are involved. The burden is now on all of us if we want to assure that no one else is a victim of state-sponsored terrorism.
Robert Joseph, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
It is incumbent on all of us to stand up against terrorism. If we seek to appease those who commit these crimes, we would only encourage more attacks, more crimes, and we will be complicit in these crimes. This attempt was part of an orchestrated campaign directed at the highest levels of the regime. This continues today.
In Europe alone, Iranian agents have operated lethal attempts across the continent. In the current case, the terrorist diplomat was caught red-handed as he was handing explosives to his accomplices. The only response of the jailed agent has been to threaten more deaths if he is convicted.
What does this planned terrorist attack tell us about the regime? It is desperate. It is killing people in the streets. It has aligned itself with the Assad regime. All of these acts show the desperation of the regime. This regime will not moderate its behavior. And this is a regime that has lost all legitimacy with its own people. The people are now the greatest threat to the regime.
As a matter of policy and principle, we must support human rights and democracy in Iran. We must support the democratic opposition inside and outside of Iran. We know regime change comes from inside Iran.
The ten-point plan of the NCRI, calling for democracy and respect of human rights, provides a pathway for insurance against a failed state. Finally, we must not throw the regime a lifeline to continue its threats. We must not return to appeasement. The central problem is not the absence of negotiations and particular agreements. The central problem is the regime itself.
The decision to resort to terrorism is carried out by the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, where there are key centers of power, including the supreme leader, the president, the speaker of parliament, and the IRGC commander. All of these people are concerned when terror is used as a political tool.
The regime tried to say that Assadi was a rogue element. It must be clear that rogue elements do not exist in the regime. When it comes to serious concerns of the regime, there is no independent elements who carry out terror attacks.
We should expect further terror attempts against European states. The regime exerts pressure on the French government to ask Belgium to not prosecute Assadi. Therefore, France could be a target for further terrorism. This is the nature of this regime.
Since the 1980s and 1990s, the regime has conducted several terror operations against European interests in Europe and other parts of the world. There was no firm European answer to those threats and actions, and Tehran understood that it could continue to attack Europe to get what it sought.
The only question today is what the EU should and will do after the trial, if Assadi is convicted, which by extension will be to all the regime, they must be held to account for this crime.
Mohammad Mohaddessin, Chair of the NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee
This was a decision by the entire government, the entire regime. The main reason for this plot, according to documents we submitted to the judicial system, was the MEK’s role in protests and uprisings inside Iran.
In December 2017-January 2018, there was a very extensive uprising across Iran. After the uprising, Khamenei and other officials pointed to the MEK as the main source of this uprising and promised to take revenge. First, they plotted a bombing attack in Albania in a celebration that included Madam Rajavi and foreign dignitaries. When this plot failed, they initiated plan B in Villepinte, Paris. The main target in the second plot was also Mrs. Rajavi. The Iranian regime was targeting Madam Rajavi, because its main plan to neutralize the uprisings was to attack the main opposition.
The plan the regime had in Villepinte was an extensive crime against humanity. It was not an ordinary operation. They wanted to conduct a mass killing. At this moment, the reaction of the European Union is very important. While I appreciate the activities of security services in Belgium and other countries, I must reiterate that political decision makers in the EU should have an appropriate reaction to this major crime. This is a historical test or challenge for the EU, whether they want to stand on their democratic standards or alongside a terrorist regime. This regime will fall.
We call for the embassies of this regime to be closed. All agents of the regime must be expelled from European countries.
Struan Stevenson, former Member of the European Parliament from Scotland
Diplomats enjoy special privileges. Assadi violated each of the core principles of diplomacy. He’s a known undercover agent of the Iranian regime’s intelligence service.
It is clear Assadi could have only acted under orders from the highest leaders of the regime. The terrorists must face European justice. But this trial must also establish the patrons of this crime. They should be indicted.
Tahar Boumedra, former senior UN official in Iraq
During my time in Iraq, I would regularly meet the Iranian ambassador to plead to him to stop attacks against MEK members in Camp Ashraf. Even after closing Camp Ashraf and the transfer of its residents to Camp Liberty, they were subject to further attacks by the regime. Based on my experience, I came to the conclusion that Iranian authorities consider the MEK as the most serious threat to the regime, and hence they see the need to exterminate them.
Two basic tenants characterize the regime. First, the establishment of the IRGC. Second, the export of its ideology. We have already seen what the regime can do in the 1988 massacre. The regime is striving to obtain nuclear bombs. The act being prosecuted in Belgium stems from the ideology of the regime and was decided at the highest level of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Abolghassem Rezai, senior NCRI member
As one of the lawyers said, this is the most important terrorism case of the 21st century. Because the regime is on the verge of overthrow, they need these acts of terror. They first attempted this attack in Albania, and then they took their crimes to France.
Demonization and terrorism are two sides of the same coin for the regime. In this specific case, the MOIS wanted to pursue both plans at the same time. While they were trying to carry out this terror attack, two known agents of the regime were busy interviewing and spreading false news against the MEK.
In this case, the regime tried to lay the blame for the attack on the Iranian opposition.
European states must define their relationship with the regime based on its terrorist nature, not the appeasement policy.